DAMASCUS - Syria is calling up former soldiers from the reserves to active army service in growing numbers, a sign of the strain of efforts to crush the 17-month-old revolt against President Bashar Assad.

Several fleeing reservists and a serving army officer told Reuters that thousands of men had been called up in the past two months to bolster the 300,000 strong army, and many of them are failing to report for duty.

"We have two choices: Stay and kill fellow Syrians, or desert, and be on the run from military courts," said a legal assistant summoned for duty in Damascus. Like others interviewed for this article, he asked not to be identified for security reasons.

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